The Move Towards True Hybrid Processes in Additive Manufacturing

24 February 2017
Hybrid processes combining 3D printing and CNC machining

We’ve seen some incredibly exciting developments in additive manufacturing technology in recent years. At RP Platform, we’ve been especially excited by the newest developments in hybrid processes — prototyping and production approaches that combine AM with ‘traditional’ manufacturing techniques. For example, certain parts of a product could be created using AM techniques, while others could be developed using CNC machining. This ‘best of both worlds’ approach has been around for some time, but it is only recently that we have begun to see it reflected in additive manufacturing technology.

In recent years, we seen the launch of a number of machines that combine additive and subtractive manufacturing tools in a single, versatile platform. For example, early 2015 saw the launch of Hermle’s MPA 40, which combined both AM and CNC manufacturing capabilities in a single five-axis machining centre, allowing for mixed-metal products that would not be possible with AM alone.

At the same time, Hybrid Manufacturing Technologies have conducted intensive research into these processes, leading to the development of their AMBIT™ docking system — a modular design that allows tools for both AM and CNC to be controlled through a single platform. The company’s founder suggested that CNC manufacturers could use this technology as an opportunity to add AM techniques as an additional ‘layer’ on top of their established processes, encouraging users to explore concepts that would not be possible with either approach in isolation.

Interest in these processes even led to a successful crowdfunding campaign to produce a desktop hybrid printer in 2015. BoXYZ combined AM, CNC and laser etching tools in a single compact unit, with the finished product earning excellent reviews from both professionals and hobbyists.

The potential this technology offers for both prototyping and production is obvious, but for it to be fully realised, workflow management tools must similarly evolve to complement it. It makes sense to choose the appropriate manufacturing technique on a project-by-project basis, but this will require smooth data flows and effective production scheduling to be implemented.

Workflows should be centrally managed, even when multiple techniques are to be utilised, in order to maintain effective volume packing and production scheduling. While software solutions already exist to enhance workflow management, it is important that they are able to manage multiple manufacturing techniques in this way, wherever they are to be utilised. Maintaining multiple workflows for different processes simply introduces too many opportunities for error when they need to be brought into alignment.

If this streamlined methodology is established as best practice throughout the manufacturing sector, we are confident that we will see hybrid processes growing in popularity as more and more innovative applications reveal themselves.

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